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European Parliament corruption probe is a gift to the bloc’s critics



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BRUSSELS — If the corruption investigation rocking the European Union is a script for a Netflix series, it will likely be sent back to the writers room. Money bag? A little literal. The casting? empty cliché.

But the scandal has seen a Greek member of the European Parliament accused of accepting bribes from foreign governments and a suitcase stuffed with euros being dragged past a local hotel that is not a script that is too intense, like a script. It is real. And it is a gift to the critics of the block.

In the nearly two weeks since Belgian media reported on the investigation, the incident now known as “Qatargate” has puzzled EU watchers.

Four people have been charged on suspicion of money laundering, corruption and participation in a criminal organization on behalf of an unnamed “Gulf Country”, believed to be Qatar. Police found more than 1.5 million euros ($1.59 million) in cash scattered between homes and the now-infamous hotel suitcase. Ten congressional offices have been sealed.

On Thursday, Eva Kaili, the Greek member of the European Parliament who until last week was one of the body’s 14 vice-presidents, appeared in a Belgian court for a pre-trial hearing. The Chamber ruled that she must be detained for another month. Two other people — her associate, parliamentary assistant Francesco Giorgi, and former member of parliament, Pier Antonio Panzeri — are also in custody. Kaili’s lawyer said she insists she is innocent. Qatar denies involvement.

What are the Qatar bribery allegations that rocked the European Parliament?

Critics quickly grasped the mess. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has been angered by the EU’s efforts to condemn the escalating authoritarianism in his country and is fighting the bloc over billions of sponsorshipshad special fun with it.

On December 12, he The Twitter account posted a meme shows a group of men laughing hysterically, with the words: “And then they say [European Parliament] really concerned about corruption in Hungary.”

He also retweeted a photo of the cash seized by Belgian police, comment“This is the rule of law in Brussels.”

Brussels wasn’t particularly interested in Orban’s crowing. However, experts say it would be unwise to underestimate the damage this type of scandal – and the rhetoric – can cause.

“This is very harmful to the European Union, both internally, in terms of the legitimacy of the European project for its people and image,” said Alberto Alemanno, a professor of European Union law at business. its in the outside world”. HEC Paris school and an advocate of transparency in government.

The European Union, which is being criticized by the likes of Orban, is more inclined to reject well-intentioned criticism than to look within, he said.

In her first remarks on the scandal, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola appeared to view the very European scandal as an outside job, the work of “malicious people, involved with autocratic third country”.

“The enemies of democracy whose very existence is a threat will stop at nothing,” she said.

Some members of parliament appeared to downplay the allegations at first, with one reportedly saying that some bad apples won’t damage the rest. A political group tried blame on the other hand.

Others point to systemic problems. Michiel van Hulten, Director of Transparency International EU, said: “While this may be the most serious case of alleged corruption the European Parliament has seen in years, it is this. is not an isolated case. statement last week.

The European Parliament “has allowed the development of a culture of impunity” thanks to lax financial rules and a lack of independent ethical oversight, he said, noting that it was members of Parliament who had thwart attempts to change that.

Van Hulten called on the European Commission to publish “a long-delayed proposal for the creation of an independent EU ethics body, with investigative and enforcement powers.”

Although top EU officials have expressed concern, there are few signs of significant reform imminent. Long before “Qatargate,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, called for the creation of an EU ethics body, but progress has been modest.

Officials here seem eager to talk about anything else. When EU leaders gathered in Brussels last week, an informal wide-ranging investigation was on the agenda.

If the European Union stays silent, it risks letting its critics speak on its behalf, potentially fueling European skepticism and undermining the bloc’s efforts to lead on the rule of law and human right.

Alemanno said Brussels needed to find its voice quickly. “If the EU cannot come up with a strong institutional response to this now,” he said, “when?”

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